Speak Easy: 6 Ways to Make Your Speakers Even Better at Hybrid Events in 2021

September 10, 2021

We’ve all seen it. We’ve all suffered through it. You’re at a spectacularly mounted conference with beautiful space design, eye popping color and gorgeous lighting. Then the speakers begin and suddenly your meticulously planned event feels like an elementary school talent show. (Take it from me – an ex-performer at elementary school talent shows!)

Planning speakers for a live event is hard enough but when you add in remote speakers as part of a hybrid event, the program can spin out of control very quickly. For hybrid meetings and events, you have two viewing audiences and two different types of speakers, each of which has different requirements for success. 

Here are six often overlooked speaker prep details that can make your hybrid event flow like the show you envisioned:

1. You’re wearing THAT? Proper attire for in-person speakers:

Proper mic placement
Proper mic placement

Since all in-person speakers will be live streamed as part of a hybrid event, they all must be properly dressed for being on camera. Advise all speakers to avoid the following:

  • Pure white clothes (they will be badly overexposed in camera)
  • Pure black clothes (if the stage also has a dark background, they will disappear into it)
  • Tightly striped patterns (they will wreak havoc with live streamed video)

Most importantly, the speakers need to wear clothes that will allow a microphone to be clipped onto them in the proper place. For male speakers, this is frequently rather easy. If they are wearing a suit and tie, all we need to do is clip the microphone to their tie and we’re good to go. Since there is a wider variety of wardrobe for female speakers, this can sometimes be an issue. Encourage your female speakers to wear a jacket or something similar where a lapel microphone can be attached. Dresses with collars or button-down tops work well. 

Another issue to be on the lookout for with speakers of both genders is long hair or dangling jewelry. You need to make sure nothing obstructs the microphone or hits it in any way. Once we were producing a live streaming event and we kept hearing this metal clanging sound in our headphones. It happened every time the speaker turned. Once we took a closer look at what the speaker was wearing, the problem was revealed: she was wearing a large necklace that was constantly hitting the microphone. 

Keep this commandment in mind: If the microphone placement is bad, the audio will be equally bad.

2. I (barely) see you down there! Proper framing of remote speakers:

Adequate amount of headroom

Now that we are firmly in this world of virtual speakers, we see all sorts of image quality. Not everyone has a high-quality webcam to make the video look pristine. But that’s OK. Audiences will forgive grainy image quality. What really bothers them (and event producers!) is when ¾ of the frame is taken up with their bookcase and only ¼ is their face. When you prep your remote speakers for a hybrid (or purely virtual) event, you need to make sure they understand how to properly frame themselves. Make sure their webcam can be adjusted. If it can’t, see if there’s a way to adjust the height of the computer itself. You do not want most of the frame being wasted on empty space. Be sure the presenter is framed in the middle of their webcam with just a little bit of headroom at the top of the frame.

This sounds basic and obvious, but I’m sure through your own experience in attending virtual events you can see how often this detail is overlooked.

3. So I just wait here then? Integrating your remote speakers into a hybrid event:

If you have a true hybrid session in that you have live in-person speakers interacting with live remote speakers being brought in on the big screen, then your moderator really needs to be on their game. It becomes very easy for the moderator to ignore the remote speakers and focus more on the live speakers sitting right next to them. This can make for an awkward session not to mention a frustrating one for the remote speakers. They will begin to wonder why they even showed up in the first place.

Once, we were producing a hybrid event including a session on remote work. The thrust of this session was that remote workers tend to get overlooked in the workplace and get passed over for promotions and left out of collaborations. Appropriately enough, the remote speakers were constantly being ignored in favor of the live speakers sitting on stage! The moderator didn’t make much of a conscious effort to include the remote speakers in the discussion. Your moderator needs to go out of their way to bring them in. The in-room speakers can pick up on cues from the moderator. It’s much harder for the remote speakers to do that so they will need obvious, verbal cues for when they can contribute. A simple prompt like, “Jessica, this question is for you,” or, “Sam, you look like you want to say something,” can make the show flow nicely and everyone will feel included.

Hybrid events with both live and remote speakers will only be as interactive as the moderator will allow.

4. Don’t get lost in cyberspace! Wrangling remote speakers into your event:

As you may have already discovered over this past year, wrangling remote speakers can present much bigger problems than corralling speakers at an in-person event. When you make it a hybrid event and are required to have live and remote speakers interact, things can get complicated in a hurry. In these cases, speaker rehearsals are ESSENTIAL. It can be difficult to find times to get everyone together but if you need to hold multiple rehearsals to accommodate everyone’s schedule, do it. You need to make sure everyone knows where to be when and what their cues will be. The in-person and virtual speakers need to know what to expect. They need to collaborate and practice. Some basic issues to cover are:

  • What order will they be speaking in?
  • If it’s a panel, how will that flow
  • If questions are coming in from the virtual viewing audience, how will they be handled? 

How will the moderator receive them?

If possible, I would highly recommend using the same Zoom meeting (or Teams or Webex or whatever platform you’re using to bring in remote speakers) ID you’ll be using on the day of the event. That way you’ll be sure they all have the proper link and know where to go.

5. What does this button do? The importance of slide choreography:

This is a very important issue from a technical standpoint. If this detail is skipped over then it will make the show flow awkwardly and lead to unnecessary technical glitches. If your remote speakers have slides that they wish to share as they present their talk, then you need to figure out how that will work. Will they be sharing their own slides? If so, you need to make sure that they know how to do it. I mean, that they literally know which button to push. Nothing grinds a show to a complete halt like a speaker fumbling with their computer. You will also need to coordinate with them as to when they will be sharing their slides. Technically speaking, when they start to share their screen on the hybrid event platform, it will affect the layout of the Zoom (or whatever) platform. This means our A/V team will need to have a separate set-up for sharing and we’ll need to cut to it. We don’t want to be surprised by that when it happens. As such, we typically coach speakers to say, “I’m going to share my screen now…” so that our technical director will know it’s coming and can prepare for it. The best practice is if there is a break right before the session, have the speaker start sharing during the break, that way everything will be ready to go when the session starts.

Will the technical director or A/V staff behind the scenes be sharing those slides? If so, then that needs to be coordinated as well. We would need to assign a staff member whose only responsibility will be to advance the slides. They need to pay close attention and they need to have an entire device set aside to share the slides. The speaker would also need to know to cue them to move to the next slide. This could be as simple as saying, “Next slide…” or some similar cue word.  

6. The camera sees all! The importance of camera eye contact:

Eye contact is the key to communication

This tip is more aesthetic than technical but it goes a long way toward keeping your virtual audience engaged. This goes for both in-person and remote speakers. As mentioned above, hybrid events have two audiences: the people in the room and the people watching at home. It’s easy to make eye contact with the people in the room because their eyes are right there in front of you! It is very easy for speakers to forget about the viewing audience at home. Encourage your live speakers to occasionally look into the lens of the camera shooting the live stream. The viewers at home are part of the event, too and making virtual eye contact with them will help keep them engaged. 

For remote speakers, camera eye contact is even more essential since they don’t have ANY in-person eyes to look at. Eye contact is the key to making that emotional connection with an audience and for remote speakers, the only gateway to that connection is through their webcam. Tell your speakers to practice giving their talks while looking at their webcams. It sounds easy but it isn’t! It can feel unnatural and takes practice to get comfortable with it. We’ve all seen sessions with remote speakers where they are looking down, looking to the side or shifting their gaze back and forth. Remember how uncomfortable it makes you feel? That’s what we want to coach our speakers to avoid. 

The camera eye sees all…but we want to see you!

Image Credits: Alexander Pellaes